When my copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead arrived, I couldn’t help noticing how much her cover resembles the cover to my Half the Church. My first thought was: “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” My second thought was: I hope the similarity will cause shoppers to mistake my book for hers.
As I started reading I noticed a genuine and intriguing connection between the subject matter of both books. Written to different audiences from completely different perspectives, still the overlap of issues is striking. Both books challenge women to take themselves seriously and to deal with internal obstacles that prevent us from bringing our full selves to the mission at hand and from engaging with the men in our lives.
As former U.S. Treasury Department chief of staff, Google vice president of Global Online Sales and Operations, and current Facebook COO, Sandberg’s speaks from an impressive wealth of experience. She’s married with two children, so also faces the challenges of juggling career and home. Christian women juggle too (although most of us do not enjoy her salary).
While acknowledging both the enormous blessings and continuing challenges for women in the workplace, her main concern is with what women do with the opportunities that are opening up to us. She notes that since the 80s women have been earning more college degrees than men, but laments the fact that those numbers aren’t reflected in the number of women in leadership.
“Today and in the United States and the developed world, women are better off than ever. . . . Despite these gains, the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade. A meager twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women hold about 14 percent of executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials.” (p5)
She points to ways women get in our own way as at least part of the problem and challenges women to lean in.
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives—the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet. Compared to our male colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions. This is not a list of things other women have done. I have made every mistake on this list. At times, I still do.”(p8)
Having spent over half of my adult life in the business world (a bank systems writer, manager of automated office systems for a hospital, and ultimately with my own business as a software developer in the U.S. and England), I can relate to Sandberg’s concerns. Indeed, what I articulated in Half the Church throws open the door for us to explore how being God’s image bearer applies to our careers, what happens when the ezer enters the workplace, and how the Blessed Alliance shows up there.
Admittedly the situation can be more complex for Christian women. Skill sets required to succeed in our jobs are not qualities the church often encourages or values in women. This leads to an oddly schizophrenic existence—developing strengths, expertise, and leadership skills for our careers, then downsizing ourselves when we cross the threshold of the church. Inside, we’ll typically hear a lot about marriage, motherhood, ministry, and our devotional pursuits—concerns that matter deeply to us. But who’s talking about our careers, not merely as a means of putting bread on the table, but as significant efforts to fulfill our callings as God’s image bearers to rule and subdue and to live fruitful, productive, creative lives? What we do with 40+ hours of the week is not a sidebar to the “real” concerns of women’s lives.
Even diehard complementarian spokesmen John Piper and Wayne Grudem concede that in the public sphere a woman may well be in a position of authority and leadership over men. They write, “when it comes to all the thousands of occupations and professions, with their endlessly varied structures of management, God has chosen not to be specific about which roles men and women should fill.”
Furthermore, in today’s American church the career woman belongs to one of the most rapidly growing and habitually ignored demographics. Yet a huge segment of our lives—40+ hours a week for most of us—is disregarded in discussions about kingdom work. Just recently a Boston attorney expressed bewilderment over “the church’s ambivalence toward my professional life” and the need to leave her “educational pursuits and professional ambition at the [church] door.”
Conversation is needed (and I daresay a lot of men would value this too) to integrate our careers and professional lives into a holistic vision of how Christians live for God in a vast variety of callings. Sandberg affords us that opportunity. The intersection between our concerns and hers shows up right away. According to Sandberg, this isn’t just about women. She writes,
“The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve” (p7).
Sounds like the Blessed Alliance to me!
So beginning next week, I’m going to start blogging through Lean In, a chapter a week.
Wednesday, May 1: Chapter 1—”The Leadership Ambition Gap “
Pick up a copy of the book and let’s engage this discussion. No matter where you work or what you do, you’re welcome to participate. Even if you’re at the starting line contemplating a career and entering the workforce or thinking through these issues for someone you love, feel free to join in. One way or another, these issues touch all of our lives.
In the meantime, to give you a preview, here’s the TED talk that gave Sheryl the platform that eventually turned into a book: